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Bush officials team with Mexico to defend trucks

Bush administration officials held a news conference with Mexico’s transportation secretary yesterday to respond to criticism of a program allowing Mexican trucks on U.S. roads, but critics in Congress who helped pass counter-legislation are unmoved.

“It is difficult to understand how a program that opens our roadways to virtually unregulated cross-border vehicle traffic can be safely regulated,” said Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter’s spokesman, Joe Kasper, in a WND interview.

Mexican Transportation Secretary Luis Tellez teamed with his counterpart U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to call on Congress to reconsider its pending prohibition of the program and let the trucking demonstration program proceed.

Barry Piatt, spokesman for Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., in a conversation with WND prior to the press conference, characterized the media event as obscene and irrelevant.

By overwhelming margins, the Senate and the House adopted identical amendments into the Transportation/HUD Appropriations bill that would cut off federal funds for the truck project. The House passed the measure 411-3 while the Senate voted 75-23. The bill awaits consideration by a Joint Conference Committee.

Peters urged, “With the change of just a few words, Congress can show that we can trade with the world, keep our highways safe, and our companies competitive at the same time.”

The secretary illustrated the point by inviting a Maryland state trooper to conduct a comprehensive safety inspection of two trucks participating in the cross-border demonstration, one a U.S. truck and the other the first Mexican truck to make a U.S. delivery. The trucks are virtually identical, Peters said, because both must meet the same strict U.S. safety standards.

“We want to demonstrate to Congress that tough safety standards and rigorous inspections work and that trucks participating in this program will have the same features, the same upkeep and the same commitment to safety that any U.S. truck has,” Peters said.

But Dorgan insisted the inspection “means nothing.”

“The information we need to ensure the safety of American drivers on American highways is not available,” he said. “That includes vehicle inspection and drivers’ records and accidents reports. None of that information is available. An ‘inspection’ of a hand-picked Mexican truck at a press conference doesn’t change that.”

Dorgan said Congress “has spoken loud and clear in its opposition to allowing long-haul Mexican trucks to enter the United States, based on concerns that included a lack of access to Mexican driver and vehicle safety records.”

“Instead of responding to those concerns, the administration rushed its pilot program into implementation and is now presenting a fancy press conference in Washington, D.C., that features the ‘inspection’ of one, hand picked Mexican truck,” he said.

Hunter spokesman Kasper told WND the truck project presents long-term safety and security challenges that cannot be casually addressed.

“Congress put in place very specific guidelines that guaranteed Mexican truckers would be regulated by the same rules as their American counterparts,” Kasper said. “Rather than working with Congress to address the concerns that have been raised about the program, DOT announced that Mexican truckers were in compliance for some time and quickly moved to implement the program.”

As of this writing, the website of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, indicates that there are five Mexican carriers authorized to participate in the program, and three U.S. carriers. The website has not been updated since September, however.

Since announcement of program’s commencement, the FMCSA has said trucks will be tracked via satellite in a joint effort between Mexico and the U.S.

Questions remain about what happens to the program if the appropriations amendment passes in tact. A Sept. 14 WND article offered information from the FMCSA that a demonstration program is not required at all, and perhaps they can just continue without the funding.

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Michael Howe is a free-lance writer and radio talk show host who has covered political and legislative for several magazines. He resides in the Denver area where he serves on the faculty of Morgan Community College.